There’s no denying that Aaron Sorkin is one of the most celebrated and respected writers in Hollywood. His original and adapted screenplays, for films such as “A Few Good Men”, “The American President”, “The Social Network”, “Moneyball” and “Steve Jobs”, are the stuff of legends. Then there are the TV shows he created, including “The West Wing” and “Newroom”, which are considered to be classics.
All of this is to say that it’s shocking and disappointing that Sorkin’s directorial debut, “Molly’s Game” (STX), is so painfully dull. A self-indulgent 30 minutes too long, when it comes to “Molly’s Game”, the audience is the loser.
Combining narration, along with depictions of the past and “present”,“Molly’s Game”, based on the book by Molly Bloom (played by Jessica Chastain), tells the true story of the titular character’s journey from Olympic skiing hopeful to high-stakes poker hustler and, eventually, the object of the FBI’s attention. Educated and bright, Molly suffered a number of setbacks in her early life, including a cold and driven coach father Larry (Kevin Costner who has abandoned all pretense of subtlety), being “irrationally angry at nothing in particular”, rapid onset scoliosis and a debilitating fall during Olympic trials.
After her “colossal wipeout” on the slopes, Molly took a year off before starting law school. She moved from Colorado to Los Angeles because she wanted “to be young for a while in warm weather”. She got two jobs – the first was working table service at a Cuban-themed nightclub and the second was as an office assistant at an investment company, working for “Hollywood staple” Dean (Jeremy Strong).
Dean’s more profitable business was the weekly poker game he ran at the Cobra Lounge. Not in her original job description, Molly was soon given the task of running the game, although she was sworn to secrecy. The high-stakes ($10k buy-in) game attracted famous folks, including actors, directors, rappers, boxers, and business titans. With the tips she earns at the end of each game, Molly begins making more money than she could have imagined.
Following an insulting confrontation with Dean, Molly goes all in (so to speak) and, utilizing all of her connections and her smarts, sets up her own game to compete with Dean. At the Four Seasons Hotel, no less. She steals Dean’s players, she incorporates as "Molly Bloom Event Planning" and, more importantly, she runs a square game by not taking a cut of winnings. With ongoing games on both coasts, she’s virtually unstoppable. That is, until all hell breaks loose with some of the players.
Twelve years after her “game” began, Molly is woken one morning by a call from the FBI telling her they have a warrant for her arrest (for running an illegal gambling operation) and she is taken into custody. With no money to her name (the government took everything), she has to hire an attorney to take her case. That’s where respectable and on the level lawyer Charlie (Idris Elba) comes in.
“Molly’s Game” tries to be a lot of things at once. The story of a complicated father/daughter relationship. A story of training for the Olympics and hopes dashed. The story of high-stakes poker and the shady characters involved. It also attempts to be a legal drama. There’s even a bit about drug addiction. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really succeed at any of these things. Rating: C-